Sunday 10 July 2022

Danish house, part 5

 Read part 1part 2, part 3 and part 4 of this story. 

Once again, I am renovating this house for a specific purpose, and a true collector would probably be horrified, because many authentic details will be lost. I bought this house extremely cheap, and I won't ever sell it as a vintage item so I can do whatever I want with it. 

And I want a roof that looks like a house roof, not like a dollhouse roof. It's fine when the house is a toy for a child to play with, but a single-sheet roof does not look natural. So it's not just that the roof was damaged - it needed a new look. 

I carefully studied period-correct roofs (there was a very interesting discussion thread, in Swedish, about various options), and I considered using corrugated cardboard for tiles, but finally decided on plain black slates. 

I have done this before, and this time I didn't use cereal boxes, but rather recycled binders from my old students' theses that I had been saving for this purpose. They have just the right colour and texture. 

I marked the tiles with a bone folder - an indispensable tool that I originally acquired for book binding, but that proved extremely versatile. Then cut the sheet into horisontal strips and glued directly onto the roof, shifting every other strip. 

I think this picture very clearly illustrates the difference - and I almost forgot to take it. I turned some of the tiles upward a bit, to make them look more realistic. I may also sand them slightly to age them. 

It took the time it took, but I am very pleased with the result. I will probably paint the ridge black, but will keep the wooden beams. I don't like the look of the chimney but haven't yet decided what to do with it. 

Next, and as a little side project before embarking on floors, I made curtains for the living room. I wanted something unusual, and I remembered that my mother-in-law, who was very much into modern design, had curtains matching wallpaper, and this felt exactly the kind of thing a functionalist designer would do. 

It took some thinking and a few trials-and-errors, but finally I figured out how to do it. 

First, I printed out the Jacobsen wallpaper in very thin, 45-gram paper. Then I cut two bits of corrugated cardboard (the one I had discarded for roof tiles) and glued on the wallpaper to emulate folds. For rod I used a skewer, hung the curtains into jewellery jump rings and attached with eye screws. 

Of course you cannot fully draw these curtains, but they look much more realistic than most dollhouse courtains I have seen, including those in museums. 

Well, now I have no further pretexts to avoid dealing with floors and the ground-floor wallpaper, but it is a serious decision, and I need to think it through. Meanwhile, I will focus in some details, like period-correct ceiling lights. I can also make some kitchen items. Come back soon! 

Sunday 12 June 2022

Danish house, part 4

 Read part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this story. 

As I have mentioned before, the original Hanse houses had a small front gable that the previous owner had removed in favour of the middle partition. The gable has two purposes. It supports the roof when there is no partition. And it will conceal display lights when I come that far. First, I made a template from cardboard. 

For the real thing, I used foam board. 

When it dried, it looked like this: 

I think this is a lovely feature of this old house that makes it so distinct from later models and from Lundby houses. 

My next step was making windows. The original Hanse houses didn't have window frames, and maybe it was fine for children to play with, but it doesn't look natural. I wanted windows in appropriate functionalist style ("funkis"), and they are relatively easy to make from coffee stirrers and recycled folder covers. 

This is what they look like on the outside and inside: 

The ground floor window is ready, but not inserted yet because I haven't decided what I want to do with wallpaper. 

After this hard work I rewarded myself by arranging furniture including the old Brio kitchen which still needs to be designed properly. I don't know what the middle room will be so at the moment there are two "bat" chairs there. Under the stairs I have temporarily arranged a bathroom; the equipment is Renwall rather than Brio, but for the time being it will do. 


Next steps include floors and roof. Come back soon. 

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Danish house, part 3

 Read the first and second part of this story. 

I was of course eager to go on with the interior, but I knew I would be irritated by the glue blobs so I took a deep breath and started working on them. As already mentioned, a hair dryer didn't help - who knows what kind of glue it was. The only way was to scrape off the glue carefully with a scalpel, moistering and rubbing slightly - my fingertips proved the most useful tool. You can still see that something happened there, but then it can happen in full-size houses too, and I didn't want to damage the surface. 

Then I painted the back wall. It wasn't absolutely necessary, but I don't want to have someone else's graffitti on my house. I painted with white. At some point I may paint in a matching colour. For now, it simply looks fresh. 

Next, I painted ceilings on the ground floor. In the existing pictures of Hanse houses, it is not clear what original ceilings look like, but I would paint them white anyway, in keeping with Jacobsen style. Anyone who has painted inside small rooms knows what a job it is. You need a whole set of brushes to get into all corners. I also painted the upper halves of walls in the middle and right-hand rooms. I am not sure yet whether I will keep the blue tiles, but unpainted walls don't look good. 

Now came the part that I had been looking forward to: putting up the wallpaper. I had this Jacobsen wallpaper, printed from the web, as a backdrop in the shelf with Jacobsen furniture. I think it's stunning. Jacobsen designed many papers, floors and curtains, but this is my favourite (although I am not sure I would have it in my full-size home). 

The job was both easy and hard. Easy because it is a geometrical pattern, matching neatly. Difficult because of the sloping roof and because I had to cut out openings for windows. I made templates from plain paper before I cut the fancy ones. I am very pleased with the result. I have temporarily put in a carpet from an earlier project. I have studied pictures of Jacobsen-style rooms, and they have either wall-to-wall carpets, plank or parquet. I hate wall-to-wall carpets and would never have one in my home (revomed immediately when we bought a house in England), but I feel it will be period-appropriate. I will go to an upholstery shop and beg or buy a sample for the upper floor. I haven't yet decided about the ground floor. 

As usual, I want to test the project with furniture even if it isn't finished. Suddenly the red staircase rail that looked conspicuous in the empty room goes nicely with the red sofa and chairs. I might still paint it later. 

I feel I have come a long way. But there is a lot to be done yet. Come back soon. 

Thursday 2 June 2022

Danish house, part 2

Read the beginning of this story. 

If I am not mistaken, there are three ways of dealing with antique and vintage items: preservation, restoration and renovation. With the first, the purpose is to keep the artifact exactly as it has been preserved: aged, damaged, even partially destroyed. With this approach, I would perhaps want to keep the remaining wallpaper, but I would not attempt to remove the paint, nor the partition. The house would be a monument to itself. For instance, a previous owner has left some marks on the back. For preservation strategy, these would be valuable. But I will paint them over. 


With restoration, you want to bring the item back to its original form. I would try to remove the paint to see if anything behind was possible to rescue, but otherwise I would try to replicate the original wallpaper by scanning the tiny bits still visible or by going online to find authentic patterns, and so on. I have already shown, in my previous post, how I have restored the original shape of the upper floor by removing the partition. In the picture below, I have found a strip of the original wallpaper that has somehow escaped the paintbrush. 

What I am doing is respectful renovation. As already mentioned, I want to display my Jacobsen collection in this house, therefore I will redecorate it to suit my purpose. It means the house will lose some of its authenticity. I will, for instance, use Jacobsen wallpaper on the upper floor. I haven't decided yet whether I will keep the wallpaper on the ground floor because it does not fit the Jacobsen design. I will definitely lay new floors, and I am strongly considering inserting window frames and glazing (I have done this before with a dollhouse I saved from the tip). There exists a Jacobsen dollhouse that fetches fancy prices at auctions, and it is quite clear from the pictures what kind of windows would be appropriate. 

So where do I start? Well, I decided to start with something really easy, like sanding away the paint. 

I wonder whether the house has been played with at all after it was painted or whether the owner didn't care about paint stains. I sanded thoroughly and then oiled the wooden beams with teak oil. 


Next, I needed to remove the glue. There, too, I wonder whether the owner was so totally insensitive as to ignore these glue blobs. The well-known trick of removing old glue is using a hair dryer, and that's what I tried, but it didn't really work. On the inside, I could simply scrape and sand because I would cover the surfaces with wallpaper. 

On the outside, however, I didn't want to damage the brick paper. 

After several further attempts with the hair dryer I was both exausted and frustrated so I decided to take a radical step and paint the ceiling. I felt that it would immediately make the house look fresh and cared for, and I think I was right. 

Note that, unlike the previous renovators, I have protected the wooden beams with masking tape. 

The original Hanse houses had small gables at the front, so I will add one. I think I will also paint the ground floor ceilings white. It would be consistent with the Jacobsen style. The paint is, by the way, not white white, but light cream. 

This is as far as I got. The next step will inevitably involve removing the glue on the outside, and I am not looking forward to it. Except I am - because when I have done it, the house will start looking beautiful. 

To be continued. 

Friday 27 May 2022

Danish house


Last month I went to a miniature fair in Denmark, as an exhibitor. The fair wasn't very successful in terms of sales, not just for me but for everyone - nobody could explain why. I hadn't plan to buy anything, but I kept looking at a house because it looked old and interesting. I don't typically work in 1:18 scale, and I already have one house that needs renovation. However, for the past couple of years I have been collecting Danish dollhouse furniture by Arne Jacobsen that I display in a bookshelf. I have been telling myself that one day I would buy an old 1:18 house exclusively to display my Jacobsen collection. And here was this old house, and ten minutes before the fair closed I bought it at a ridiculously low price. I am still surprised that no one had bought it earlier - maybe because it was in such poor condition. I wonder whether the seller was aware what they was selling. Later I checked the current prices for this type of house so I know it was a bargain. My daughter who was there with me thought I was crazy, but it wasn't big news to her. 

Now, I don't know enough about vintage dollhouses but fortunately there are communities with expertise. I thought it was an early Lundby, but my facebook group immediately recognised it as a Danish Hanse house which certainly makes sense as I found it in Denmark. As I researched it back home, it became apparent. Symmetrical roof - and evebody knows that Lundby houses are not symmetrical. Also several features were conspicuous, such as the stairs. 

I have been busy with all kinds of things recently so it's not until now I have some time to take a closer look. 

To begin with, the partition on the upper floor is a late addition - original Hanse houses didn't have it. At closer look, the partition had a very odd sized door, just 8 cm high. The walls on the ground floor have no doors, but they don't go all the way to the front, so a kind of pretence doors. Another typical Hanse feature. 

The wallpaper on the ground floor seems authentic, but on the upper floor the walls have been painted, and not very carefully. Floors in one room were badly damaged. 

From the pictures I have found on the web, floors are original. I have also been told that the house didn't have window frames and glazing. 

Somebody repaired the wall in a most horrendous manner - just look at the glue!

The bottom was water damaged. Not much I can do about it, maybe just give it a protective coat of paint.

I am not sure what the round things in the corners are. Maybe the house stood on legs. 

I took a deep breath and started. 

The first thing was to remove the partition which was easy because it had also been fixed quite carelessly. With the partition removed, you can see original wallpaper. 

I won't restore the original wallpaper because I intend, as already mentioned, to use the house to display Jacobsen furniture. I will have Jacobsen wallpaper, and I will research what kind of floors and ceilings would go with Jacobsen design. 

Just to cheer myself up, after realising the scope of necessary work, I put some Jacobsen items into the upper-floor room. With the partition, it wouldn't look half as nice. 

I am not sure where to start, but probably I need to make all the major repairs before I can go on. Mend the hole in the floor. Remove the glue. Sand away old paint. I am sure I will discover more faults as I go. I believe this will take me the whole summer, particularly if it rains. I will report regularly so please come back. 

To be continued.  

Friday 13 August 2021

Lord Asriel's room, revisited

Every now and then I go back to my old projects and either dismantle them or improve them in some way. I have for instance made room boxes with shops, and I keep adding objects or things get "sold" for other projects. 

It is almost impossible to alter something in a project that you have gifted. For some time, I kept giving my friend new items for her shoe shop, but there is a limit to how much you can squeeze in a shoe box. Mostly, when a room box leaves your hands it's out of your control. I even wonder how many of them have been kept. I shouldn't care, but I do. 

I have for a while wanted to improve the room box I made for my son many, many years ago. It was the second room box I made, and I wasn't very good at it. Every time I came to visit, I would look at the box and wish I could give it another chance, and finally the time has come: I am working on the revision of Lord Asriel's study.  

This is the before picture, more or less the final picture of the original project. 

I will not elaborate on every fault I find, but it needs a total renovation, including floors, walls, mouldings and more. The challenge, however, will be to preserve the general look so that it will still be easily recognisable. The focal point of the room is the bookshelf, which is one of those pathetic first attempts at handmade furniture, so I will replace it with a magnificent Chippendale bookcase. And the rest will have to match. 

I have just had good training for this project making my Dark Academia book nook. I don't want to copy it, but I will use some features, because Lord Asriel's study is a typical Dark Academia environment. I didn't know anything about Dark Academia when I made the box all those years ago. 

The first thing I did was of course strip the room of everything, except the wallpaper and the ceiling that I decided to keep, for the reason stated above: it must be recognisable. I left the pictures just to have some sense of what it used to be. 

The old floor was flagstone made from air-drying clay. At the time, it was an innovative technology for me, and I was proud of it, but really, why would an Oxford academic have flagstone floor in his study? It's more appropriate for a wine cellar. Hence, the first step was to make a proper hardwood parquet. I had a large piece left over from an earlier project (in fact, I cut a little bit out of it for Dark Academia) so I used it, or what could be saved of it, since a lot had to be redone to fit the new floor area. I was much more diligent with sanding the floor when it was finished. 

Next, I wanted to make dark wooden panels, and for that I have experience both from Womble Hall and Dark Academia. I used a strip of card, adding some moulding from coffee stirrers and skewers. I considered heavy skirting I have left over from Womble Hall, but it felt too bulky.

But I wanted something extraordinary for the panels, also testing something I have never done before. I had a wooden ornament from a hobby shop, and it would have been easy to just get more of them, but it's not much of a challenge. Instead, I made a mould from air-dry clay, then made multiple imprints of the ornament. 

I painted the panels with acrylic, then gave it a coat of mahogany stain and several coats of varnish. 

Close up. Yes, I see that the wallpaper is bubbly, but not much I can do about it, short of pulling it off and hanging new, and that's too much. 


I did not put the ornaments on every panel because they would interfere with the furniture. 

I wanted to add a fireplace that wasn't in the original room but of course would be indispensible in an academic's room without other heating. I happened to have a suitable fireplace surround so I didn't make one from scratch, but I will add some details to it, including a fire. A mantlepiece is a good place to put all the numerous weird objects I had in the original room. I will probably replace the mirror with a more period-correct one.

Coving in the old room was made from full-size picture frames, which at that time felt a perfect solution, but wouldn't do now. Again, I have quite a lot of leftovers from Womble Hall, and since then I have learned to use mitre shears. although even with this tool, mitring cornishes is a nightmare. I considered painting coving dark as well, but decided against it, to have something white in the room for contrast. 

As you see, I have discarded the pipes. I have tried and tested, and they just didn't go with the panels. Since I am not even sure why they were there in the first place, I don't feel bad about them. 

Before I could focus on furnishing, I needed to consider anbaric light (which, if you haven't read His Dark Materials, is what they call electricity in Lord Asriel's world). I have learned a lot about lighting in the past years, and although I still haven't found a perfect solution for Womble Hall, I have successfully made lights for some room boxes, including Dark Academia. Lights do add to the atmosphere. That said, the recipient of this room box is a lighting expert so it has to be perfect or none at all. 

What this expert taught me is the fundamental principle of display lighting is that the light sources have to be hidden. There are many ways of doing this, but I have added a top frame to hide anbaric lights behind. At this stage, I also painted all edges dark brown, to match the panels.

It does make a difference, doesn't it? I still need to make some improvements, but wanted to test. 

Now to the details. The bookcase needs to be filled with books. There were a few books in the old room, all of them with a special significance, but I need more, and of course since then I have made hundreds of books - that's not a hyperbole, really hundreds, for Womble Hall, for the library room box, and more still. 

I have some lovely books that would fit into an academic's room. They are real books, with words and pictures. Unfortunately they are a couple millimetres larger than the shelves so they will have to  be scattered around the room.  

Most books will be fake, with just covers. I estimated I would need about 60 books, and I was right: 65. It kept me busy for a while, but I didn't want to cheat with just spines. There are indeed 65 individual books that can be taken out, and at least one row is books with recognisable covers. They are all there for a reason. Others are simply generic "old books", but I used different covers and made some books larger and thicker, for variety. It does not look natural when all books are of the same size. 

Inside the room, the book case looks truly authentic. The recipient may never bother to open the bookcase and look at the books, but it doesn't matter. 

Of course I also have a copy of His Dark Materials. And a copy of one of my own books - I always leave a secret signature in my projects, like Hitchcock always has a vignette of himself in all his films. 

In the drawer of the bookcase I have put old maps, letters, newspapers, notebooks and other private and confidential stuff. 

I have already mentioned the fireplace, and it needed some extra work. To begin with, the back can never be mahogany, can it? It needs to be brick or just black. 

It is also too shiny as compared to the panellling, but I will have to live with it. I painted the back, and I had to sacrifice the fireguard because the kind of fire I wanted to insert didn't fit behind it. But I needed a fireguard, and I made one by painting a piece of fence from a farm play set. I made the fire with a flickering tea light, the way I have always made fires. This one can be put on a timer so it will switch on automatically in the evening, but in my experience it exhausts the battery quickly. But it is easy to take out, switch on and put back. There is of course a more sophisticated way to do it: drill a hole in the side wall and the fire surround and use a battery light that can be switched on from outside, but it will be, or might be, a next step. 

The wallpaper was damaged in some places, which happens when you are stupid and attach things to wall with blue tack. These spots had to be disguised, and on one wall I put a large old map of Svalbard. If you have read His Dark Materials, you know why, and if not, it plays a significant role in the books. Lord Asriel would definitely have a map of Svalbard in his study.


There was another map in the original room which I had cut from a magazine so it had no relevance at all. I replaced it with an old map of Oxford. I am afraid there is no Jordan college in this map. 

On the left-hand wall, I put some framed portraits. I don't know who these people are, but let's pretend they are famous Arctic explorers.  

The rest was more or less straightforward. I put the golden compass on a more appropriate side table. I added another occasional table by the armchair, on which I put a decanter of Tokay and two glasses. I kept Asriel's equipment for experiental theology - which is what science is called in his world.  

I put two very pretty candlesticks on the mantlepiece. I made them in my miniature club, and I think they fit fine. I also added a mantle clock. 

At a glance, the room probably looks the same, which has been the intention. But almost every feature has been improved, and I am very happy with the outcome.